Visiting Auschwitz – or another concentration camp – is an experience that tends to split opinion. While some are adamant that they would never want to go to one, others think that visiting a concentration camp is incredibly important thing to do for a number of reasons. I fell into the latter category.
Over one million visitors make the journey to visit Auschwitz – Birkenau each year to take a guided tour of the camps. Our guide was Polish and, like thousands of others, someone whose family had been heavily affected by the Holocaust. The first thing each group sees as you leave the visitor centre is the infamous slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (Work makes you free) across the entrance.
While the sign above Auschwitz is arguably the most famous, it also appears at the entrance to other camps like Dachau. When I visited Dachau earlier this year, the real entrance gate had actually been stolen and to this day, has not been recovered – this is just a replica.To visit a concentration camp is quite unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. It’s possible to be simultaneously fascinated by the history and horrified enough that you almost want to turn around without seeing any more. There are moments, even when you are standing in the middle of the camp, where you still can’t believe that these things happened. And then you see something that makes it real.It could be when you realise that the now-empty watchtowers were once the home of Nazis making sure the prisoners didn’t set a foot out of line. It could be where you see the shoes of those who died – from grown men to tiny children. It could be when you stand in a gas chamber for the first time.
It’s hard to stand on the same train tracks in Birkenau that you see in those recordings of prisoners being separated – some to be put to work, some instantly sentenced to die. In a way, it made me hope that the more people see this, the more people will realise that the injustice and discrimination in the world should end. But then, you can still see overwhelming prejudice in the world without even looking too closely.
To put it simply visiting Auschwitz, or another concentration camp, can affect you in a number of ways but if it makes you sad, it means you’re human. And, in my opinion, it’s something that everybody should do – to remember those who lost their lives and to learn from it.
Located an hours drive from Krakow in Poland, Auschwitz – Birkenau is open throughout the year except Christmas Day, New Years Day and Easter Sunday. Guided tours can take up to four hours (including both Auschwitz and Birkenau, a short break and bus ride between the two) and cost around 40zl, or you can walk around independently free of charge, but I would highly recommend a tour if it’s your first time visiting.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have! Would you ever go to Auschwitz?